Retired Tilton Elementary School Principal Raymond Sierpina, who was Joshua Bonnell’s principal, said he heard about the death on Sunday while he and his wife were driving back from a Thanksgiving family gathering in Kentucky.
“When I heard his name I was in shock,” Sierpina said. “I can still see him delivering the attendance sheet from (teacher) Kerri Alves’ room to the front office, always with a smile on his face.
“He was a nice, hard-working and smart kid who came from a great and intelligent family,” Sierpina said. “Last year we went to Laschi’s (a garden center on Route 97 in Methuen) to pick up some Christmas greenery and Josh was working there. He was talking to us about his family place in Naples (Maine) and how they enjoy going up there. He was smiling and he was happy.
“I feel a terrible loss for the family,” Sierpina said. “As a parent, how do you handle such a tragedy?”
Sierpina said Joshua’s parents, Susan and Gary Bonnell, were very active in the Tilton School community and were involved in the PTO and Site Council. Sierpina said the Bonnell family helped make Mother’s Day special for hundreds of children at Tilton.
In 2005, Austin Bonnell was a first grader. Joshua had graduated from Tilton the year before. Their parents, who at the time operated Bonnell’s Flowers, donated 1,250 impatien “plugs” — two starter plants for each child at the school — as well as enough soil to plant them in. The Haverhill Garden Club chipped in with stacks of 3-inch pots and volunteers, who helped children plant the flowers as Mothers Day gifts. Susan Bonnell had done similar gardening projects in her children’s classrooms the previous four years.
“I decided to get together with the Garden Club this year and do the project for the whole school,” Susan Bonnell said that first year.
The following year, the Bonnells donated 1,400 impatiens plugs to the project. Susan Bonnell’s mother, Joan Pechnik, was the Garden Club’s incoming president that year.
Tilton teacher Kerri Alves had both the Bonnell boys in her third grade classes.
“Josh had a very upbeat personality,” Alves said. “He was kind, he was funny, and he was a sweet kid. Words can’t describe what kind of a loss this is.”